Minstrel of the Dawn


This week, we’re giving this space over to a special guest, a man this community lost fifteen years ago this week. Peter Nicol was a man of integrity and honour: qualities not as easy to find as you might think in these days. Peter gave a great deal to North Grenville, a place he came to love and to serve for many years as a journalist, musician, citizen, and in so many other capacities. He played a role in the beginnings of the monthly NG Newsletter, now the weekly NG Times. Peter is still missed and remembered by many. This comes from September 3, 2003.

    David Shanahan             

Summer ended yesterday

by Peter H. Nicol

Summer ended yesterday. That’s not the official date, of course, but it is the actual date for all intents and purposes. To be precise, summer ended at approximately 8:15 am. That’s the time that a big yellow school bus picked up my grandson at the top of our laneway and whisked him off to Oxford-On-Rideau Public School to begin his academic career in Grade One. It brought him back home at 4:15pm with tales about his new teacher, his new classmates, and the things that went well and not so well over the course of a very special day.

I didn’t get to ride a school bus when I was his age. Oh, they had been invented all right, and no, I didn’t have to walk ten miles to school and ten miles home, uphill both ways, through mountainous snowdrifts and pelting rain. The truth of the matter is that, from kindergarten to grade six, I had to walk two and a half city blocks to get to Elmdale Public School in the City of Ottawa. It wasn’t really all that far, but it seemed like it at the time. Nonetheless, I was expected to get there and back again under my own power, and I did: just like every other kid who went to that school. Later, in grades seven and eight, I went to Connaught Public School, which was a pretty good walk in winter, but when the weather was fair, it was a pretty easy bike ride. Still later, I went to Fisher Park High School which was located just down the street from our house: the older I got, the less distance I needed to travel to school

After high school, I went to Ottawa Teachers’ College. One of the more important things that you had to do there was to practice teach: you would spend a week in a real classroom and the resident teacher would assign you particular lessons to teach and then, with the children absent, evaluate your performance. Most of these sessions were very positive and one learned a lot. Some of the people you taught seemed to hate student teachers and would shoot you down for everything from the way that your hair was parted (I had some then) to the colour of your tie. But these things had to be considered as nothing more than bumps along the road; one endured and carried on.

I left the teaching profession, as such, shortly after I graduated, the reason being that I was making more money – a lot more money actually – playing guitar and singing on the local folk music circuit. However, I kept my hand in the game, so to speak, by making myself available for supply teaching a few days a week. I enjoyed that part of it, but I must say that, from time to time, it produced some very odd feelings. Every now and again, I would end up teaching not only at some of the schools that I attended as a child, but in the very same classrooms. I cannot tell you how weird it felt by times, seeing my eight year old self in the very same desk at which I sat all those years ago, but now I was the adult, the teacher at the front of the room to whom everyone looked for direction. It was less Deja Vu, I think, than it was the Twilight Zone. Good times, though.

All of these memories, and many, many more, flashed through my mind as my grandson boarded his bus, taking his first steps on which I believe will be a marvellous journey. Over the years, he will tell me of his successes and the bumps upon his road and I will try to keep him focussed through both the good times and less good times. That’s what a grandfather is for, eh?

And it’s not just me, of course. In every household in North Grenville, in every household across the province, across the nation, moms and dads and grandparents are joined by the common concern for our children’s future. It doesn’t matter whether we are black or white or brown or native or nordic or whatever; the sometimes seeming endless divides of our nation close when it comes to our children. It’s a lesson that we should all remember: this is not our only common concern; treating people with honour and respect is not rocket science, it is necessary if we are all to move forward and prosper.


Maybe MADD could start a subsidiary group, called Mothers Against Dumb Driving. Recent reports in the newspapers talk about a guy driving down the road with a crock pot simmering on the passenger seat while he tossed a salad in a bowl on his lap, all the while driving fast enough to attract the attention of the local constabulary. Or how about legislating against people talking on cell phones while they drive? Or people doing a host of other silly things as they go along their way? Alcohol is not the only impairment out there.



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